Radio Education for Out-of-School Zambian Children

by Lifeline Energy
One of 10 Lifeline radios signed by Tom Hanks
One of 10 Lifeline radios signed by Tom Hanks

New York, January 21, 2008…. The Freeplay Foundation announced today that two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks will participate in a charity auction hosted on eBay Giving Works Jan 22-Feb 1 to support the Freeplay Foundation.

Tom Hanks, the Freeplay Foundation’s U.S. Ambassador, will autograph 10 self-powered Freeplay Lifeline radios for the charity auction on eBay Giving Works, eBay’s dedicated program for charity listings. Each high bidder also will receive a personal letter and a signed photo from Mr. Hanks.

“The Lifeline radio can change the world – one person, one house, one village at a time,” said Mr. Hanks. “The beauty of the Freeplay Foundation is the radio itself and the immediacy of its mission: to put radios in the hands of people who need them. Lifeline radios can make a positive impact from the moment they are turned on in one of the villages.”

People can go to or can click on to place their bids and to watch a special video from Tom Hanks.

Lifeline radios are not sold commercially; they are the first radios ever produced specifically for use in humanitarian projects. Radio is the primary means of mass communication in developing countries, but often, transistor radio batteries cost too much for people to buy on an ongoing basis and electricity is non-existent. The Freeplay Foundation provides radio access to the poorest people in the world via the wind-up and solar-powered radios, which do not require batteries or electricity.

Working mainly in Africa, the Freeplay Foundation enables hundreds of thousands of children to learn English, math, science and life skills through radio distance-learning programs. Coffee farmers learn new planting techniques using Lifeline radios, and people throughout Africa learn how to prevent HIV/AIDS while listening to their Lifelines. Nomadic tribes listen to Lifeline radios as they caravan, and orphaned children -- living completely on their own – can grasp a “lifeline” to the outside world when listening.

“The first time I held a Lifeline, I felt like I was carrying all the promise of the modern world in my hand,” remembers Tom Hanks. “Music can come out of the sky without batteries being tossed into landfills. Information can be sent and received, and voices of freedom can be heard. All by winding up this little box.” The Freeplay Foundation is a fund-seeking organization with 501 (c) (3) tax exempt status in the U.S., is a registered charity in the UK, and has Section 21 non-profit status in South Africa.


Media contacts: East Coast: Alexandrea Ravenelle, Global Fluency (646) 652-5216 West Coast: Brielle Schaeffer, Global Fluency (650) 433-4163 For the Freeplay Foundation: Michelle Riley (912) 898-2195

Tom Hanks - the Freeplay Foundation
Tom Hanks - the Freeplay Foundation's U.S Ambassador



For Africa’s Children, It Comes One Radio at a Time

By jake miller

NOT LONG AGO Kristine Pearson found herself in a ball gown at a dinner at Kensington Palace in London, talking about poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and the problems of children who have lost their parents to AIDS or to the war in Rwanda—kids struggling to keep their brothers and sisters alive and together as a family. She was seated next to a man who asked about her work as executive director of the Freeplay Foundation.

Read more in the attached magazine article...


During a recent visit to Zambia - writes Jody Ehlers Buttenshaw, Freeplay Foundation projects manager - I saw the Lifeline radio hard at work delivering grade school lessons in community schools throughout the Northern and Luapula Provinces.

It was an amazing experience to travel hundreds of miles and find a very similar situation throughout all these remote areas: a thatched roof and a one room house filled with 30 – 50 smiling faces of children singing along to educational songs that help them learn their numbers. In different locations, I watched from the back of each ‘classroom’ as eager little hands raised high in the air to be called to the board.

This is distance education in action; reaching some of the most vulnerable children of Africa who need primary schooling the most yet have the greatest difficulty in accessing it. These children are not able to attend the government schools, whether through being unable to afford school fees or having to walk too many miles to the closest school.

Yet they can meet daily for two hours in informal centers on every weekday to be guided through their grade school radio lessons by dedicated mentors. And thanks to the consistent high quality education they receive through fine radio programming and the care of their mentors, they are able to complete each of their one-year grade levels in just six months.

The children we visited are so evidently eager to learn and enjoy doing so.

(Please visit the Zambia project photo gallery to access recent pictures - photos 5 & 6 - of children at their Grade 1 lessons)

During a surprise visit with the Ministry of Education to a community school in a village located in Samfya, I also got to witness first hand the constant determination of the Ministry of Education to provide an education to all the children in Zambia.

As we entered the village on our way to the school, we walked by an area where four young boys were hard at work making bricks in the summer sun. While they toiled, other children ran about nearby in tattered clothes. Adelaide Phiri, the District Education Standards Officer for the Ministry of Education, accompanied me.

She asked one of the boys why he was not in school. He said: ” I need money for books, so I must work.”

Adelaide questioned him further and learned his name was Tyson Kabinga. Tyson is a double orphan living with his grandparents. His only brother lives eight hours away in Lusaka with his father’s brother. Tyson explained that when he makes 500 bricks he will be paid 12, 500 Kwatcha - about $4.

Adelaide spoke then to the boy about the importance of education for his future. She made an offer to Tyson: if he came to visit her she would provide the books he needed for class in order for him to be able to go back to school. Tyson agreed that he would come to visit Adelaide later in the day to receive his books.

Tyson’s friend, Rodger Kaime, a 16 year old who has six brothers and sisters, overheard the conversation. Interested in what was being offered to Tyson, he too showed immediate enthusiasm for going back to school. When we left we waved goodbye, and Adelaide promised she would go back to see both boys later.

(Please visit the Zambia project photo gallery to see pictures of Adelaide, Tyson and Rodger)

Experiences like this brought home to me again and again during my recent field mission, that there are still so many Zambian children who are desperately in need of an education and yet have great difficulty accessing it.

Thanks to radio distance learning programs like Learning at Taonga Market and to strong partnerships like the one our Freeplay Foundation enjoys in Zambia with EDC and the Ministry of Education, we are already reaching many hundreds of thousands of children.

Among those who provide vital funding for our program, we are deeply grateful for the financial support of Global Giving donors. Your donations are currently providing Freeplay Lifeline radios and distance learning access to some 1,200 children in Zambia.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Zambian children remain out of school and expansion of the Learning at Taonga Market program and self-powered Lifeline radio provision is urgently needed, so that Tyson and Rodger and many others like them can also receive a grade school education. My Freeplay Foundation colleagues and I are committed to continue working with donors and radio education partners, until every child in Zambia can have access to basic primary education, and to what should be a fundamental right for children everywhere.

The Freeplay Foundation is delighted to announce its selection as one of 119 finalists among over 2,500 entrants in the World Bank's highly competitive Development Marketplace 2006 programe.

Freeplay's new Weza (power in Swahili) foot-powered generator is a robust, environmentally friendly and portable energy source that offers dependable power for everyday use and emergencies. Fifty mainly women 'Weza Pioneers' in Rwanda will be equipped with business start-up kits, training and low-risk financing, to establish cash based energy service micro-businesses. The project will enable us to assess the Weza's technical performance in harsh rural settings, fine-tune micro-loan mechanisms and price points and gauge the scalability and replicability of the new Freeplay Weza micro-enterprise model within and beyond Rwanda.

The Foundation's entry for a pilot project to launch Freeplay Weza based micro enterprises in Rwanda will be presented at a Development Marketplace meeting on 8-9 May in Washington, DC. Successful finalists will receive grants of up to $200,000 each. The Foundation's partners in this innovative initiative include Freeplay Energy Plc, CARE Rwanda, Cornell University's Center for Global Sustainable Enterprise and Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.


In a classroom two hours outside Lusaka, along a narrow dirt road eroded by heavy rains, 32 children attend school. In rural Chongwe and other rural districts of Zambia, where distances are great and people are poor, the prospect of attending school is not guaranteed for an increasing number of orphans and other vulnerable children. Many grade one learners walk up to three hours for the opportunity to learn. Most have no shoes and their clothes are ragged. Yet their faces light up as the familiar sounds of the Learning at "Taonga Market" (LATM) signature tune begins to play from a Freeplay Lifeline self-powered radio.

Built by the local community from grass and thatch, the classroom offers little shelter - when it rains the ceiling leaks and the floor turns to mud. The children sit in rows on benches scarcely more than crude logs. There are no desks. There is a small blackboard on which the date and the subject of the day's lesson have been neatly written in chalk - lumps of dried clay, which often disintegrate as the teacher writes.

While playing, children learn vital language skills that may grant them entry one day into the job market, where English is the universal language of higher education, commerce and the internet. The dedicated mentor leaves his fields in the care of others each morning to instruct the children without financial gain. He is not a trained teacher, but his title of "mentor" gives him the status of teacher within his community.

The radio component of the lesson over, the children move outside and sit on the ground to practice what they have heard. Today they are learning to write the letter "A" and the number "4". Concentrating hard, they diligently make their letters in tattered exercise books and on scraps of paper, some writing with pencils no more than a few centimeters long. Their mentor moves among them and takes a small hand in his as he carefully demonstrates the correct shaping of the letters.

The brainchild of the Education Broadcasting Services (EBS) division of the Ministry of Education (MOE), the community school mentoring system was born out of the need to bring education and information to the poorest, most isolated rural communities.

Five years on from the program’s pilot project, some 64,000 learners have benefited from LATM and children who attend informal center Lifeline radio classes regularly achieve higher scores in the same exams than children in formal schools and in half the time. As Zambia’s life expectancy plummets to levels not seen since the Middles Ages and two teachers die for every one trained, Freeplay Lifeline radios are now being distributed also to formal government schools, where broadcast lessons can provide continuity and supplement the gaps created by frequent staff shortages and absences.

During 2005, Freeplay Foundation partners such as World Vision, Educational Development Center, the Peace Corps and YMCA further extended the reach of self-powered radio access through Lifeline distributions to informal learning centers and government schools in remote rural areas.

Freeplay Foundation staff made project field visits twice during the year. In addition to monitoring our project partners, we also participated in a radio research project in conjunction with Breeze FM (the non-government community radio station), funded by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The survey confirmed the vital role of radio as an information source for rural Zambians. 96% of interviewees reported listening daily and school education programs were regularly listened to by 98% of those surveyed (many of whom are not currently enrolled in a formal or informal school program).

Late in 2005, Times of London correspondent Simon Barnes visited Freeplay Foundation projects. Two articles on Zambia appeared in December editions of the newspaper, promoting its annual Christmas charity appeal, of which the Freeplay Foundation was a beneficiary.

Barnes writes: “Education is the way forward, a way of breaking the cycle, a way towards greater safety, a way towards a future. Education is not mere subtraction, ‘seex take away one’. In Mwala, and in many other such places, education is about the addition of hope to a hard and difficult life.

And at the heart of the process of education is the radio: a radio that needs no batteries, a radio that can be wound up, and which beams in programmes put together by the Ministry of Education in Lusaka: literacy, numeracy, the awareness of Aids. Each subject in its own way a source of power”.

During 2005, Global Giving donors to Freeplay Foundation’s Radio Education for Out of School Children project have enabled another 4-500 orphans and other out-of-school Zambian children to access this vital source of power and hope for their future. Thank you all!


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Organization Information

Lifeline Energy

Location: Cape Town, South Africa - South Africa
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Jody Ehlers Buttenshaw
Freeplay Foundation Projects Manager
London, United Kingdom

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Thanks to 17 donors like you, a total of $2,809 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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